The Puppet Challenge Part 7: Graham, Caroline and Scott

Graham Carter, Caroline McCatty and Scott Garrett

Graham Carter: Puss-in-Boots

Above: Graham Carter’s concept artwork for  his puppet of Puss-in-Boots

Below: working-drawing

It’s always interesting when an illustrator known for a particular style of two-dimensional artwork, then has to realise a design as an object. Graham magnificently rose to the challenge, producing a delightful concept sheet that transformed effortlessly… or so it seemed… into a finished puppet. (I’m no such fool as to imagine it was a simple matter, but Graham has the skill and grace to at least make it look so.)

Graham writes:

“This is my first foray into puppet-making. (Well, apart from a ten-foot mobile Yeti rod-puppet I helped build for a parade a couple of years ago – but that was a group effort!) Firstly I’d like to thank Clive and Peter for inviting me to take part. I do like a challenge! When I accepted it though, I hadn’t quite anticipated the shift in mindset needed when making something ‘functional’ as opposed to purely aesthetic. Some of my recent 3D pieces do closely resemble puppets, and I had considered tackling this in the same way but that soon went out of the window when I realised that limbs had to actually move! As much as I tried to plan the puppet and make a few thumbnail sketches, I figured the best way, for me personally, was trial and error. I had a loose design in my head and figured I would tackle moveable limbs as I went along. Engineers would scoff at that of course, but I’m definitely not an engineer! When thinking of a subject I very nearly began working on a miniature puppet theatre-set based on the film of Jason & the Argonauts, with Skeleton Automata – but very quickly realised this would be a folly for a novice! Keep it simple! (Wise words Clive!) I thought it would be fun creating a character with long legs, and I narrowed it down to a frog-prince or Puss-in-Boots. I opted for the clever cat. In order to spice it up a bit I decided on a futuristic Puss-in-Boots, complete with bionic arm/paw (of course!) I did make him a little leather hat too but this only served to make him look like a 70’s pimp!”

“Ideally I would have liked to carve the model to give it that old-fashioned toy look, but I just didn’t have the tools. I chose instead to use wood I had lying around in my studio, plus any old nuts, bolts, wire and laser-cut wood off-cuts I had at my disposal. This gives it a rough and ready look, but I do actually quite like that. It took me a while to figure out how to get the limbs to function. I just stared at the pieces of wood for ages until I figured out a solution. If they were too stiff or obstructed I would just saw/sand a little here and there until they became functional. I’m pleased with the legs – the elbows are a little cumbersome and unnatural looking, but again – I think it suits my style, and the character (that’s my excuse anyway). The head is attached to a rod at the back to give it multi-directional function. I added the moveable eyebrows as an afterthought, as I wanted it to have that slight ventriloquist’s dummy look about it. (I would have liked to add a moving jaw too. Next time!)”

“I haven’t got around to attaching string etc yet to make him dance, but with a couple of screw replacements I think he could pull off some moves!”

“My son certainly loves him….”

I appreciate the fact that Graham opted for a ‘rough and ready’ look for his puppet. Some makers get bogged down trying to create a perfect, slightly retro, moulded-in-plastic finish, and while that may look good as a toy, the brief here was to make a puppet, and puppets are much more forgiving when it comes to surface detail. The magic of a puppet must stem not only from its design, but also from the way in which it moves. I’m sure that in the hands of a puppeteer, this Puss-in-Boots would turn in quite a performance. I love the idea that he can raise a roguish eyebrow, or arch them both in a look of ‘drop-dead’ disdain.

Caroline McCatty: The Ogre that Pretended to be a Little Girl

Caroline wrote at the outset of the Challenge:

“I’m planning to make a flying puppet based on a Chinese fairy tale called The Flying Ogre. I’ll attempt to make a glove-puppet that transforms from a little girl into an ogre, because in the tale he disguises himself as a little girl.”

“I have the idea to make a Little Girl glove-puppet whose head will open and the ogre pop out. The design work is all a bit rough as I don’t have time to spend making the prep work wonderful. Anyway this is where my ideas are going, but the final puppet will be less basic.”

Above: Caroline’s ‘mock-up’, made to get the feel of how the puppet might look

Caroline basically described a ‘trick-puppet’, commonplace in nineteenth century puppet performances, though more usually associated with marionettes than glove-puppets. Mechanisms and effects became quite ornate as marionette companies went to great lengths to outdo rivals in the ingenuity and splendour of their illusions.

Below: Caroline photographed the stages of making her Little Girl/Ogre glove-puppet

Above: a sketch of the Little Girl next to an Ogre’s head rather different to the finished one

Below: the carved and painted head of the Little Girl next to the completed Ogre head

The Ogre’s head is built around an inflatable bladder. The whole thing folds up and can be hidden, packed away inside the Little Girl’s head, which is made of two halves… a front and back… fastened with ties. When the ties are released, her face flops forward and the crumpled Ogre’s head pops out. With the aid of a tube and good lungs, Caroline can inflate the Ogre’s head so that it replaces the Little Girl’s.

You can see Caroline’s transformation puppet going through its paces in the film linked below. I think we can be pretty sure she’ll get quicker and more dextrous with practice. Ten out of ten for invention, skill and blow-power. A splendid result.

Little Girl into Ogre Transformation

Scott Garrett: the Earl of Rone and the Whittlesea Straw Bear

Scott turned to two ancient celebratory traditions for the inspiration of his glove-puppets: the Earl of Rone and the Whittlesea Straw Bear, shown in his illustrations above.

He writes of the custom of the Earl:

“Why the Earl of Rone? Well, he’s just one of a number of fantastic English folklore characters out there, madly eccentric. If I’d done the Hastings Jack, it would have just been a lump of vegetation. The Earl has a great physical character, chunky almost cuddly… but he is deeply dark. He reminds me of some old Polish/Czech character, earthy in his sackcloth garb, but with the graphic white, red and black mask and its sharp, angular nose.”

Below: the stages of Scott’s puppet. The first is a mock-up produced to check for scale, made of a ball and some gift-wrap.

Below: the finished puppet

Below: Scott’s early sketch for the Whittlesea Straw Bear glove-puppet

In Whittlesea it’s the custom on the 1st Monday after Twelfth Night to dress a ploughman in straw and call him a ‘Straw Bear’. A newspaper of 1882 reported the Bear “taken around the town to entertain, by his frantic and clumsy gestures, the good folk who had, on the previous day, subscribed to the rustics a spread of beer, tobacco and beef”.

The costume was described as being made of great lengths of tightly twisted straw bands wound up the arms, legs and body of the man or boy chosen to play the role. Sticks fastened to the shoulders formed a cone above the wearer’s head, and the face was completely covered so that the Bear was all but blind. A tail was provided and a strong chain fastened around its armpits. It was made to dance in front of houses and gifts of money or of beer and food for later consumption were expected. The custom evidently held an honoured status in the community, as straw was carefully selected from the best available, the harvesters saying, “That’ll do for the Bear”. The custom had long died out, but was revived in the 1980s. The straw costume is burned at the end of the celebrations and has to be made afresh each year.

I think Scott’s puppets are splendid evocations of folk customs. He wrote that he’d balked at the Hastings Jack, but I for one would like to see his take on that venerable tradition, not least because for a couple of years the Jack sported a mask that I’d made in the likeness of my late father.

21 thoughts on “The Puppet Challenge Part 7: Graham, Caroline and Scott

  1. Pingback: The Puppet Challenge Part 13: Judy, Jennifer, Michael & Benjamin, Penny, Charlotte and Liisa | Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog:

  2. More fantastic stuff. Some really ambitious engineering feats here, I love the ogre’s inflating head (I’m sure we’ve all known some winsome small children who could transform alarmingly into swollen headed scary monsters…)

    And I too am deeply taken with Scott’s mantelpiece!

  3. These are marvellous. I’m really enjoying the playfulness and trickery of them.

    The little ogre girl is a delight. Such a sweet winsome creatures with this beastly and quite beautiful persona. Caroline captured beautifully the qualities of Chinese toys that I so admire, seemingly incongruous colouring and an attention to detail and fearless exuberance.

    Scott’s figures capture the pagan spirit i so love. Little shamanic figures, so handsome and desirable. I would treasure one if he sat upon my mantelpiece.

    I can totally sympathize with Graham’s not being an engineer. I too felt I had to rely upon my intuition and not overplay, thereby learning by doing. Hence a collection of failed little beings 🙂

    Bravo/a to all.

  4. Pingback: The Puppet Challenge, parts 7 and 8. Plus a few fungi. | lizkingsangster

  5. Good lord…more lovely things! I love Caroline’s puppet, especially the sort-of sadness when the monster’s head deflates! It’s worth looking at other things of her on Youtube, especially the Queen Victoria automaton…fab! Graham’s puss-in-boots has real charm…I’d love to see those eyebrows waggling. Scott’s work is superb – I particularly like the photo of the Earl of Rone standing on the mantelpiece and hope that delicious straw bear won’t be burnt like his traditional counterpart – he’s far too exquisite for that!

  6. Graham that Puss is so full of original charm! He has a folky look but is completely contemporary, and the boots and special hand match perfectly – same language but from world’s apart. Puss was one that I considered making but was too daunted by the moving legs, and what is Puss in Boots without boots that strut about? These are perfect!

    Caroline, that ogre is spectacular and so ambitious! I am blown away by your creativity. The stitching, colourful extravagance and grotesque concept (I love things grotesque!) are fabulous and I agree that it would wow an audience to see it in action.

    Scott, your puppets are magnetic and entrancing. I love the contrast between your graphic renditions and the real puppets and particularly loved perusing the photo of the Earl on your mantelpiece! I love an eclectic mix of well chosen items on a mantelpiece! So beautiful. I couldn’t say which of the two puppets I prefer as I love them both; one with the soft blonde colouring, and one so bold and glaring. Fabulous!

  7. Pingback: The Puppet Challenge | Graham Carter - Printmaking & Illustration

  8. wow!!! a perfect blue cat!! what can i say?? i love those eyebrows, very, very clever. and i’m very appreciative of the drawings showing the pegging of the legs, as well.
    the ogre disguised as a child is a piece of genius. i can’t believe how clever that is, to have the face drop away and the ogre’s head–which is *fantastic*–inflate. so creative, and such wonderful colors and energy, to boot.

    the earl of rone’s face is so striking in those colors, i love the geometric/tribal style of the paint, it really gives so much character….great straw man, too!

  9. Graham – Puss is incredible!!! Those boots, those eyebrows, that paw – my 4 year old would have a blast with him!!!

    Caroline – there are no words. Your craftsmanship, colors and creativity are fantastic. I love how you can enlarge his head!!!

    Scott – Brilliant. The Straw Bear is magnificent, and a bit strange too. I adore him. The Earl reminds me of the santos and retablos I saw in New Mexico, with an otherworldly, mystical, dark presence.

  10. It is really just incredible how good and how original each of these puppets are!!

    Caroline’s puppet is so beautifully (and intelligently) crafted. How wonderful to be so talented with textiles, and carving, and painting!! The inflatable ogre was a brilliant idea and really and sincerely would induce awe and horror in an audience I think. Very inspiring!

    Graham’s puppet is like a beautifully-drawn comic come wonderfully to life. Like Clive and Hussam, I love the moveable eyebrows, and I thought the elbows and knees really added to the overall look of the puppet too. How lucky that boy is to have a father who makes such delightful things!

    Scott’s take on two folk characters was lovely. I think the straw bear is especially appealing and I really enjoyed learning a little about this tradition. I do have a special soft spot for burry-men, and leafy woodwoses and things of that sort though!

    Amazing, all three artists!

  11. Thanks very much for the comments everyone and big thanks to Clive for putting it all together in a coherent and thoughtful way! I’ll post a vid when i get around to ‘performing’ him. Due to his weight i need to strengthen some of the joints first as his arm fell off the other day so he’s not quite ‘string-ready’….. Loving all the other many varied designs and processes coming through! I’ll try and steer people in this direction to come and feast on the visuals….

    • Graham, might he be better operated ‘Bunraku-style? He already has a control rod in the back of his head, and heavier puppets tend to work better ‘in the hand’ rather than when dangling from strings. If the technique is unfamiliar to you, click on THIS link to get a better idea. Puss-in Boots looks like a puppet that would work a treat with two or even three pairs of hands. That way there could be a lot of subtlety of movement.

  12. Wow – yet more wonders! I do love that transformation puppet – lovely design and there’s something very unsettling about the stretching of the big ogre head! A beautifully carved and painted girl’s face too.

  13. I would’ve loved to see Graham’s puppet in action, I especially like the movable eye brows feature and Graham’s futuristic take on Puss-in-Boots, complete with a bionic paw and all.. brilliant!

    Caroline blew my mind with the innovative imagination and skill behind her puppet creation. So much attention to details, from the ogre’s face, teeth.. even the flower on the back of the little girl mask and her beautifully decorated garment , absolutely stunning.

    I very much like Scott’s take on folk customs and traditions, I like that his puppets are dark and eccentric but they’re also adorable in the same breath… Impressive work.

  14. The inventiveness of each different form is fantastic. I also love the expanding number of folk tales being shared. Watching Caroline’s puppet metamorphose just opens up a world of ideas and inspirations. I want to know if Puss has rocket boots and a cyber net sack too? Scott’s work is so effective, very unsettling, and then I realised just how deep some traditional stories go, without you really realising it.

  15. Graham’s Puss-in-Boots has got the most fantastic face!

    As for Scott’s contribution, I’m a big fan of his work, and his style translates beautifully into the puppets. They’ve got bags of character.

    All the puppets I’ve seen so far have blown me away with their inventiveness, flair and creativity. But for me, Caroline’s blow-up ogre head exploding out of the little girl’s face is just fabulous.

  16. Oh these 3 are splendid! Of Graham Carter’s Puss-in-Boots the best photo is the rear shot, with his hat on his back and the game in his hands. I agree that the handmade look he has is perfect. We are far too used to factory-made smooth toys. The shape of his face, the detailed painting, the colours, I can see why his son loves the puppet.

    Brava to Caroline. I toyed with the idea of my puppet metamorphosing, but gave up at the first hurdle. The film of the transformation is very very clever, and the quality of stitching and of the puppet is beautiful. inside every little girl lies a monster!!

    Scott’s Earl of Rone, apart from having interesting company on the mantelpiece, has a very expressive face But how? That’s what is so fascinating about all the puppets. He works so well with his markings of a living totem. The straw man, too, is as you say, splendidly folkish, with his ruddy cheeks. I can almost hear his voice. Excellent!

  17. Ooh, I’m now wishing I’d attempted a 3D puppet! Something to try in future perhaps. These are seriously impressive. I love Puss-in-Boots’ moveable eyebrows!

  18. We are just back from our holiday walking in the wilds of Snowdonia and its wonderful to return to the puppet challenge blog posts. I can see we need to put some time aside to really look at the images and explore the creative process. Each puppet is so different and so wonderful!

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